Last year, if someone wanted to buy an AV receiver and wasn't flush with cash, our recommendation was easy--the Onkyo TX-SR605 offered an unparalleled feature set for the price and sounded great to boot. This year, Onkyo has released an updated model, the TX-SR606, and has made a great product even better, as it now sports four HDMI inputs and offers upconversion up to 1080i for analog signals. Even more enticing, these extra features come without any effective price premium: despite its $580 list price, the street price of the TX-SR606 is already $400, equaling the bargain price of the TX-SR605.
While the TX-SR606 is an improvement over the TX-SR605, perhaps the bigger story is that the rest of the field has caught up. The Sony STR-DG920 offers most of the same functionality. Furthermore, in our experience, the capability to upconvert to 1080i just isn't worthwhile, as the TX-SR606's video processing is so poor that even average users will be disappointed. So while the TX-SR606 is an excellent receiver that improves on its predecessor, competition from Sony (and others) and some underperforming features means it's not as much of a no-brainer choice as it was last year. Those with non-HDMI video sources will want to look at alternatives, or consider bypassing the Onkyo and using their TVs to switch analog videos sources instead.
The TX-SR606 looks essentially the same as the TX-SR605. It's big and boxy, with its dimensions coming in at 6.88 inches high by 17.13 inches wide by 15.06 inches deep. From the front, there's a big volume knob in the upper right-hand section. The middle of the receiver is dominated by a strip of glossy black plastic, and in the center is an LCD screen, which is easy enough to see from about 7 feet away. To the right of the display is a front-panel directional pad, which is nice for navigating menus in case the remote is lost, and underneath the glossy black strip are several additional front panel buttons. Along the bottom is a headphone jack, along with more front panel buttons plus a standard AV input. Overall, it's not exactly stylish, but that's pretty typical for an AV receiver.
The included remote is nicely redesigned from previous Onkyo remotes. The new remote is much simpler, obviously built around the concept of navigating via onscreen menus. That means there are significantly fewer buttons that directly access features, which may frustrate some power users who hate digging through menus. However, overall we like the new design, as it should be less intimidating for receiver amateurs, and those of us accustomed to navigating menus on a DVR won't mind searching through the menus to make adjustments. Still, we had some quibbles. We would have liked it if the main volume rocker was more prominently positioned, instead of lumped together with other rockers. We were also frustrated how input buttons such as DVD also force the remote to start controlling the DVD player--which means, for instance, that the "setup" button tries to load the DVD player's setup menu rather than that of the receivers. But these are mostly nitpicks on an otherwise solid redesign.
While manufacturers such as Denon and Sony have put a lot of work into prettying graphical user interfaces, Onkyo continues to stick with plain menus featuring blocky white text. As much as we like the pretty GUIs, we appreciate Onkyo's philosophy of ignoring the eye candy and keeping the price low instead. For example, Sony's STR-DG920 is very close to the TX-SR606 in terms of features, but the STR-DG920 includes Sony's xross media bar (XMB) GUI and costs $100 more. That said, we'd love for Onkyo to offer some high-definition menus at the same price point.
The TX-SR606's Audyssey 2EQ automatic calibration system uses a microphone to analyze the speakers' and subwoofers' sound from three positions in your room. Seconds after you plug in the included mic, the receiver's onscreen display supplies the following very important message, "Please place microphone at center of listening area at ear height." That's essential advice that most calibration systems may supply in the user manual, but owners who don't read the manual may inadvertently place the mic in less than ideal locations that throw off the accuracy of the results. Kudos to Onkyo for emphasizing that point.
The Audyssey 2EQ process takes about 10 minutes, during which time the receiver sends test tones to all of the speakers and sub. The Onkyo TX-SR606 then adjusts the channel volume level and time delay settings for each speaker, the speaker "sizes," and subwoofer crossover settings. The Audyssey 2EQ also provides equalization corrections to the speakers and sub, which we felt significantly improved the sound of our Aperion Intimus 5B Harmony SD satellite/subwoofer system. The auto setup was just as accurate as our manual setup.
Frankly, we were surprised by the improvements the Audyssey 2EQ provided, the Aperion system is quite nice au natural, yet the Audyssey 2EQ sweetened the treble and smoothed the transition between sub and satellites. That made for improved midbass fullness, apparent dynamic range and impact.
|Connectivity||Audio soundtrack capabilities|
|HDMI inputs||4||Passes Dolby Digital and DTS via HDMI||Yes|
|Component video inputs||2||Passes LPCM via HDMI||Yes|
|AV inputs with S-Video||4 (4 rear, 1 front without S-Video)||Decodes Dolby TrueHD or DTS-HD Master||Yes|
|Optical inputs||2||Video capabilities|
|Coaxial inputs||2||HDMI version||1.3|
|Selectable HD sources||6||1080p via HDMI||Yes|
|Satellite radio||Sirius ready||1080p via component||Yes|
|Network audio||No||Upconverts analog sources||Yes|
|Phono input||No||Deinterlaces 480i via HDMI||Yes|
|Analog multichannel input||Yes||Selectable output resolution||Yes|
The TX-SR606 is a 7.1-channel AV receiver, and Onkyo rates its output at 90 watts per channel. Like essentially every other receiver available, it offers a full selection of standard Dolby and DTS surround processing modes.
Last year's TX-SR605 was essentially the only AV receiver in its price range to include decoding for the two, new high-resolution soundtrack formats, Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. The TX-SR606 includes onboard decoding for both of those soundtrack formats, but it's somewhat less of an important feature as more manufacturers have begun to include this feature at lower price points. Additionally, more and more Blu-ray players (including the PS3) are including onboard decoding, which lessens the importance of having the decoders in the player. That being said, having onboard decoding is a nice way to future-proof your receiver in case other devices come out that output the soundtracks in bit stream (undecoded) format.
The TX-SR606's connectivity is highlighted by its four HDMI inputs, which can handle both high-resolution audio and HD video signals up to 1080p. Four HDMI inputs is generous at this price point, and should be enough for most setups--but if you need more you can always add an HDMI switcher. For analog video, we were disappointed that the TX-SR606 only has two component video connections--three is the usual--but, in fairness, component video-only devices are becoming rare. For standard-definition video, you get four S-Video/AV inputs--plus another AV input on the front--which is a step up over Sony receivers that have completely dropped S-Video inputs.
A lot of video connectivity is important, but every receiver is ultimately limited by how many input labels is has. In other words, just because the TX-SR606 has six total high-definition inputs (four HDMI, two component video inputs) doesn't necessarily mean you can use six high-definition components simultaneously. Luckily the TX-SR606 is pretty flexible, offering up seven different labels (DVD, VCR/DVR, CBL/SAT, GAME/TV, AUX, TAPE, and CD) to which HDMI and component video sources can be assigned. Those seven labels can also be assigned with standard-definition sources as well.
All those video inputs are great, but what really enhances their functionality--in theory, anyway--is the TX-SR606's HDMI upconversion. What this means is that analog video signals from the component, S-Video and composite video inputs can be converted to be output over the HDMI output, so you only need to make one HDMI connection from your receiver to your HDTV. Additionally, the TX-SR606 is capable of scaling these signals from their original 480i format up to 1080i. However, in the real world, we were pretty disappointed by the video quality of the TX-SR606's upconversion, making this feature significantly less useful--more on this in the performance section.
For audio, the HDMI inputs can deliver 7.1 channels of high resolution audio. Other digital audio connectivity is available by two optical digital audio inputs and two coaxial digital audio inputs, but note that they are, as always, limited to standard Dolby Digital/DTS audio resolution. Analog audio is supported by a set of 7.1 analog inputs, plus two dedicated stereo RCA inputs. Vinyl enthusiasts will bemoan the lack of a phono input, but you can still add a turntable with a separate preamp. For late night listening, there's also a headphone jack on the front panel.
The rest of the connectivity is rounded out by a Sirius jack, so you'll only need to connect the Sirius SCH1 Sirius Connect for Sirius service--with a subscription, of course. There's no equivalent XM jack, but if the two satellite services end up completing their merger, that should be a moot point. The TX-SR606 also has very basic multiroom functionality, allowing you sending line level audio signals to another room (where you'll need another amp). There's no built-in digital or network audio features, but those who are interested in that will be better served with a dedicated device anyway.
Compared with other receivers, the TX-SR606 is still a relatively good value, but it's definitely has more competition in this price range than last year's TX-SR605. Sony's budget receivers definitely compare favorably, with the STR-DG820 offering up four HDMI inputs for $400 (although with no upscaling), and the STR-DG920 adding 1080p upscaling at a reasonable $600 list price. Denon's AVR-1909 costs a little more at $650 and only includes three HDMI inputs, but it adds more multiroom options and Denon fans will argue the brands superior sound is worth the money.
First up, we spun the Master and Commander Blu-ray. The DTS-HD Master Audio sound of those early below decks scenes with the ship's creaking wood, wind and outside, the churning ocean were all exceptionally realistic. We also noted that our five speakers created an unusually seamless surround experience.
When the cannons fired, the ka-boom sounds were more abrupt and therefore more realistic. And when the cannon balls came crashing through the wood ships' sides, the impacts were terrifyingly violent. We could hear the spent balls rolling over the wooden planks.
We next tried the Black Crowes Freak 'N' Roll Blu-ray Disc, and even though the sound was only available in plain vanilla DTS, the TX-SR606 didn't let us down. As the band rolled through "Welcome to the Good Times," accompanied by a soulful brass section, the sound was clear. Live concert sound can sometimes be overblown, but here the sound felt like an above average stage mix. The TX-SR606 sounded powerful as we pushed the volume higher and higher.
We finished up with Mike Garson's Jazz Hat CD, a straight ahead piano jazz recording. Here the TX-SR606 sounded good, but not exceptionally so. We started in stereo and later opened things up with Dolby Pro Logic II surround, and that sounded better to us. All in all, we were happier with the TX-SR606's sound with movies more than music on CD.
The TX-SR606 is capable of upconverting analog signals up to 1080i, so we ran it through our suite of video tests. We hooked up an Oppo DV-983H via S-Video to the TX-SR606, and had the TX-SR606 upconvert to 1080i to a Sony KDL-46XBR4. The TX-SR606 also includes the capability to pass upconverted signal without scaling them--in other words, outputting a 480i signal--and we used this option to compare the receiver's processing with the processing the KDL-46XBR4 would do on its own.
We popped into Silicon Optix's HQV suite on DVD, and right off the bat we noticed some glaring flaws. First off, the TX-SR606's upconverted image didn't completely fill the screen, leaving about an inch of black space on the top, left and bottom of the screen. The actual image itself wasn't any better, as we could see comb-like artifacts and the image was very soft, indicating some lost resolution. When we switched the TX-SR606 into through mode, the errors disappeared as the KDL-46XBR4 did an excellent job with this test pattern. The TX-SR606 did a better job with the following jaggies tests, which consist of a rotating white line and three pivoting white lines. However, even on these tests, we could see the comb-like artifacts on tests and the logo, indicating something was seriously wrong with the processing. Possibly the most revealing test was the detail test, and where there should be easily identifiable marble steps was just a mass of white using the TX-SR606's processing, again showing the loss in resolution.
We switched over to actual program material to see if these same issues showed up in actual movies. We still had hope for the TX-SR606--as we've seen video processors treat the HQV disc strangely before--but unfortunately, we saw more of the same. We put in Star Trek: Insurrection and noticed that the black bars on the top, left and bottom where still there. We didn't notice any problems with 2:3 pull-down, but it really didn't matter as the loss in resolution caused way more jaggies than we're used to seeing on this disc. Again, we flipped it back to "through" mode and the softness disappeared. The same issues were visible on other discs.
We took a quick look at the other upscaling options offered by the TX-SR606 (480p and 720p) and although they didn't have the same issues filling the screen, we saw a similar loss in resolution in both modes, which resulted in program material. The bottom line is that the TX-SR606's video processing isn't up to snuff for videophiles, and is likely to bother even though that aren't image quality buffs. And while you can bypass the upscaling processing by using the "through" mode, you'll have to count on your HDTV accepted a 480i signal over HDMI--and many HDTVs won't. We also looked at some component video signals, and results were also poor, but not quite as bad as S-Video. We did notice, however, that the TX-SR606 negatively affected resolution even when in "through" mode, as image quality was sharper connected directly to the KDL-46XBR4.